Around Iceland’s Ring Road: An 8 Day Itinerary

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The Ring Road, or Route 1, is a road that loops around the entire country of Iceland. If you are heading to Iceland
and have plenty of time I definitely recommend leaving the capital city of Reykjavik for some of the amazing natural wonders Iceland has to offer. While 8 days wasn’t nearly enough time to see everything on our list, here is what we did in our 8 days in Iceland:

Day 1: Explore Reykjavik
From the airport we headed straight into Reykjavik to start exploring. We have an entire post dedicated to our time in the capital, including visiting Halligrimskirka Church, Tjornin Lake and the Harpa Concert Hall!


Day 2: Reykjavik to Vik (~2 hours driving)

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We hit a snag early in the day trying to pick up our rental car which put us pretty far behind schedule so we had to race straight to Solheimajokulsvegur glacier for our glacier hike with Arctic Adventures at 1:30 pm. You can read all about it here!

From there we backtracked a half hour to Skogafoss Waterfall for dinner at the restaurant near the falls and hiking behind the waterfall. After dinner we headed to our Airbnb close to Vik for the night.


Day 3: Vik to Hofn (~3.5 hours driving)

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To start off our day we backtracked about 20 minutes to the black sand beaches in Dryholaey and explored a while to see the gorgeous Dryholaey cliff and lighthouse. From Dryholaey we started the drive towards Hofn, stopping for a short hike, after an hour of driving, at Fjadrargljufur canyon.


The day was full of driving but there were plenty of views along the way including Vatnajokull glacier. Our last stop of the day was at the Jokularson Glacier Lagoon. The runoff from the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier creates a lagoon with large pieces of ice floating around. Be sure to head to the ocean side of the Ring Road to walk along the black sand beach also covered in more large pieces!


Day 4: Hofn to Egilsstadir (2.5 hours driving)

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After the night at a guesthouse near hofn, we set off for our first rainy day of driving on the trip. We drove into Hofn to explore and stop at a grocery store to stock up on sandwich supplies for lunches. Our next pit stop, an hour and a half away, was in Djúpivogur to see the outdoor sculpture Eggin í Gleðivík. The sculpture by the shore was created in 2009 and is made up of 34 bird eggs all of different shapes and sizes. The eggs are large scale replicas representing the 34 different bird species found in the area.

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In Icelandic, foss means waterfall. So when we stopped for bagged lunches in a place called Fossardalur, it was just what you’d expect – we found many beautiful water falls in the area.

Before dark we headed into the town of Egilsstadir for a round of Frisbee golf in a local park. The course was small but I almost got my first hole in one!

Day 5: Egilsstadir to Akureyri (~4 hours driving)

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After leaving our Airbnb near Egilsstadir, we headed out on a 2 hour drive straight towards Dettifoss Waterfall. Dettifoss is considered the most powerful waterfall in Europe and was a great place for us to eat lunch with a view.

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Next we drove another hour towards Lake Myvatn, making a pit stop at the Namafjell Hverir geothermal area. You are able to walk around the geothermal area to examine boiling sulphurous mud springs and steam vents in a Mars-like landscape!


Nearby, we had to stop at Grjotagja cave as it was a filming location for Game of Thrones! Grjotagja is a giant fissure splitting a shelf of volcanic rock with a clear thermal spring inside. Game of Thrones fans might recognize it as the cave where Jon Snow gets “deflowered” by the wildling Ygritte!


Our last stop of the day before our Airbnb was at Godafoss waterfall. Godafoss is considered to be the “Waterfall of the Gods” and is situated directly off the Ring Road!

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Godafoss Waterfall

Day 6: Akureyri to Reykholt (~3.5 hours driving)

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To start our day in Akureyri, we took a whale watching tour with Ambassador. The tour took us out onto the water up close and personal with a few humpback whales! Read all about our tour here!

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Next we explored Akureyri by car (it was raining) and stopped in at the Akureyri museum. Inside we were able to look at maps of Iceland throughout the years, including some with the fictitious beasts thought to be in the waters surrounding the island. Another cool section of the museum was on Iceland’s previous President Vigdis Finnbogadottir, the first woman in the world to be elected to head of state in a national election! The small exhibit had many of her Icelandic outfits on display and a really interesting documentary.


From Akureyri we hit the road heading towards our Airbnb, about 3.5 hours away, for the night near Reykholt. Along the way we stopped at Grabrok Crater for a hike. There are actually 3 craters in all nearby with hiking paths up and around them. From Grabrok we headed to our Airbnb for dinner and a good rest.


Day 7: The Golden Circle (3 hours driving)

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We left our Airbnb nice and early to drive the 1.5 hours to Thingvellir National Park to snorkel in the Silfra Fissure at 10am. Read our post about it here! The rest of the day we spent going around the rest of the Golden Circle, exploring Thingvellir National Park and visiting Geysir, Gullfoss waterfall, and Faxifoss waterfall. You can read all about our Golden Circle trip here!


Day 8: Reykjavik/The Blue Lagoon (~1 hour driving)
For our last day in Iceland we returned to Reykjavik to drop off our rental car and shop for souvenirs before taking a bus to the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa known for its milky waters, is a easily one of the most recognized places in Iceland. Relaxing in the waters with silica face masks was a great way to unwind after our busy road trip around Iceland.


While there are so many more places we would have liked to seen or spent more time at (we didn’t even get close to the Snaefellsnes peninsula!), we really enjoyed the 8 days we spent exploring Iceland!

Snorkeling in Silfra Fissure in Iceland

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Snorkling at the Silfra Fissure at Thingvellir National Park was one of the highlights of our trip around Iceland’s Golden Circle (more about the Golden Circle here!). Fissures are long narrow cracks in stone that are the results of an earthquake and the Silfra Fissure is the only place on Earth where you can dive/snorkel between the American and Eurasian tectonic plates! Though there are multiple fissures in Iceland, another unique thing about Silfra is that it is filled with crystal clear water from an underwater spring.

We booked our snorkeling tour through Dive.is and were not disappointed! There is an option to get a ride to and from Reykjavik but as we were finishing our Ring Road trip we opted to meet the group at Thingvellir National Park. We met our snorkel guide, Eric, and he helped us learn about all the gear that Dive.is provided. The water in the Silfra Fissure varies between 2-4 degrees Celsius (33-39 degrees Fahrenheit) year-round so we definitely needed dry suits to stay warm! The point of the suits is to not let water inside so they can be fairly tight around the neck and wrists, it was a little hard to breathe in them before we got in the water. After suiting up, we grabbed fins and snorkel masks and headed over to the loading platform.

Before we got in the water we had to spit in our snorkel masks to keep them from fogging up. Saliva does the job and they don’t want to add any non-natural chemicals into the fissure. Getting in the water was a cold process. While your body is still warm (hopefully you don’t have leaks!), your face and hands can feel the chilling water. The gloves you wear allow water in, but are insulated so as long as you don’t move your hands through the water much they’ll stay fairly warm.

As we snorkeled through the water we were able to see the incredible underwater landscape of lava rock, sand and algae. While you won’t find any animals in the water, the visibility exceeds 100m making it some of the clearest water in the world! Luckily we brought our waterproof camera to capture some of the awesome views (note if you don’t have a wrist strap you cannot take your camera). But if you don’t have one your guide takes photos along the way that you can purchase afterwards.

After we got out of the water we got a couple of much needed cups of hot chocolate and cookies to warm up!

Snorkeling in the Silfra Fissure was awesome and it is a year round activity! According to our guide, there are a couple of  differences between the seasons: In the winter, the visibility gets better whereas during the summer you can see rainbows in the water. We snorkeled in mid September and loved the high visibility!

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Around Iceland’s Golden Circle – A Day Trip from Reykjavik

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If you don’t have much time in Iceland but still want to see some sights outside of the capital, Iceland’s Golden Circle is the perfect day trip from Reykjavik! The Golden Circle can be visited either by renting a car or going on a tour bus with one of the many companies leaving from Reykjavik. We did the route by rental car as the end of our trip around the Ring Road. Our first stop was at Thingvellir National Park. The park itself is beautiful with plenty of paths to explore and even Oxararfoss waterfall.

Thingvellir National Park is also home to the Silfra Fissure. Silfra is a freshwater fissure between the American and Eurasian tectonic plates. The water is some of the clearest in the world with visibility exceeding 100 meters! We opted to go on a snorkeling group with Dive.is to experience the 2-4 degrees’ Celsius temperatures for ourselves!

Our next stop on the Golden Circle route was at Geysir, the inspiration for the English word geyser. A geyser is an underground hot spring that intermittently builds up enough pressure from the heat to release a burst of steam into the air. In Geysir there are actually three different geysers: Geysir, Liti Geysir and Strokkur. Geysir can erupt to a height of 70-80 meters but typically only erupts after earthquake activity so it’s not very likely you’ll see Geysir or Liti Geysir go off on your visit. The main attraction is actually Strokkur.  Strokkur erupts regularly every 8-10 minutes and shoots between 25 and 35 meters into the air! The water in this geothermal area can get up to 100 degrees Celsius so be sure to stay on the designated paths!

 

The last major stop around our Golden Circle route was Gullfoss. With its proximity to Reykjavik, Gullfoss is possibly the most famous of Iceland’s many waterfalls (check out other awesome waterfalls here!). The total falls are 32 meters (105 ft) tall but it is split into 2 waterfalls. A combination of regular rains and glacier runoff makes Gullfoss the largest waterfalls in Europe by volume.

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To finish up our Golden Circle tour we made a quick stop at the small not very well known Faxifoss waterfall. Located just off of road 35, Faxifoss doesn’t even have a sign leading to it! Look for the sign “Faxi” and turn there for a pretty waterfall view all to yourself.

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The Golden Circle is a great way to see the beauties of Iceland on a tight time frame. If you have more time to travel, check out our favorite things along the Ring Road which wraps around the entire island!

 

Visiting the Blue Lagoon in Iceland

The Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa known for its milky waters, is a easily one of the most recognized places in Iceland. We visited the Blue Lagoon to unwind on the last day of our 8 day Iceland adventure. Ordering your tickets online in advance is a must, or else it may be too full to go in when you get there! If possible the Blue Lagoon makes a great stop either to or from the airport. If you are like us and didn’t have that opportunity don’t fret! There are buses running the ~45-minute drive from the BSI bus station, in Reykjavik, to the Blue Lagoon entrance.

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Entrance to the Blue Lagoon comes in 4 standard packages: Standard, Comfort, Premium and Luxury. Prices differ by season and by times of day that you plan to arrive at the lagoon. We chose the Comfort package which includes the entrance fee, silica mud masks, algae masks, a towel to use, and a drink of your choice from the poolside bars. When ordering a package, you will have to choose a time to arrive at the Blue Lagoon – this time is just the hour window that you plan to get there and from there you can stay as long as you want! At the entrance you will receive a wristband that does everything you need in the spa. It is the key to your locker, gets you any upgrades you purchased, and is how you charge any purchases.

After you check in, put on your bracelet and change, it’s finally time to head into the water! Be sure to put plenty of the free conditioner in your hair and leave it there before heading to the water, it can dry out your hair for a few days! Contrary to popular belief, the Blue Lagoon is not a natural phenomenon: the heated water and its healing properties are actually run off from the nearby geothermal plant! As you wander through the water you’ll notice some spots are warmer than others and there are multiple sections of the lagoon to spread out away from crowds.

We strolled over to the bar area for our drinks that were included in our entrance package. They had both alcoholic options (beer and wine) and non-alcoholic options (smoothies, soda pop, juice). Another included feature was the silica mud mask and algae mask. There are buckets of the mask to grab some with your fingers and spread on your face. After about 10-15 minutes you can wash the mask off in the water and notice your softer, smoother skin!

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Visiting the Blue Lagoon is definitely an iconic attraction for every tourist to do when visiting Iceland. I would definitely recommend trying to work it in on the way to/from the airport or during a long layover!

24 Hours in Reykjavik, Iceland

24-hours-in-Reykjavik-Iceland.jpgWe kicked off our 8-day trip to Iceland with about 24 hours in the capital city, Reykjavik! After arriving at the Keflavik International Airport in the morning, we had to take a ~45 minute bus ride to downtown Reykjavik. We dropped our bags off at Loft Hostel then headed out to start our day! We first headed towards Harpa Concert Hall situated by the Atlantic Ocean and were able to wander around inside and explore the beautiful architecture at no cost. The concert hall opened in May of 2011 and is not only used for concerts but also international conferences, festivals and even the Reykjavik Chess Tournament!

Next we strolled along the banks until we made it to the Sun Voyager sculpture. Designed by Jon Gunnar Arnason, the steel sculpture resembles a Viking long ship. We wandered the banks enjoying the views of Mount Esja across the water.

From the water we headed up the hill into town towards where we could see the tower of Halligrimskirkja Church in the distance. The church was built in 1937 with inspiration from how lava cools forming basalt rock. In front of the church was the statue of Leifur Eiriksson, it had been there since 15 years before the church was built. Eiriksson was the first European to discover America around 1,000AD, 500 years before Christopher Columbus!

Though you can explore the interior of the church for free, you have to pay a 900 isk (~$9) fee to go up into the tower but it’s definitely worth it. From the top you have views of the entire city in all directions.

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After a quick lunch break we made our way to Tjornin Pond. Surrounded by colorful houses, a church and Reykjavik City Hall, Tjornin is a beautiful area to walk around and take in the views. You can even see Halligrimskirkja Church from the waterside!

After some window/ souvenir shopping we headed back to Loft Hostel to get into our dorm room. Putting our bags away we met two roommates from Canada and Scotland who invited us to join them at the hostel’s happy hour. We spent the evening hanging out with our new friends both on the terrace and inside the hostel. For dinner we ran out to a small hot dog stand for some of Iceland’s famous hotdogs, they were delicious!

The next morning, we got up bright and early for a light breakfast at the hostel before picking up our rental car to begin our trek around the ring road!

My Top 10 Things to See & Do on Iceland’s Ring Road

 

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Iceland’s Ring Road is full of beautiful views and adventurous opportunities – these were my top 10 experiences (in no particular order) on our 8 day Ring Road roadtrip!

1. Snorkeling in the Silfra Fissure– In Thingvillir National Park you can snorkel (or scuba) between the America and Eurasian tectonic plates! The fresh water is some of the clearest in the world with visibility exceeding 100m!


2. Go on a Glacier Hike – There are multiple places in Iceland to do a glacier hike, but we chose the Solheimajokulsvegur glacier. Grab your crampons and your ice pick (both provided) and trek with your guide all along the ice learning about its features as you go. You can even drink from a glacier stream the “Viking way” aka doing a push up on your ice pick!


3. Dettifoss waterfall – Dettifoss is considered the most powerful waterfall in Europe! Though it’s a little ways off the ring road it’s well worth the detour

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4. Skogafoss waterfall – Skogafoss waterfall is located in southern Iceland right off the Ring Road and has a great hiking path behind it to wander above the canyon


5. Jokulsarlon Iceberg Lagoon – The lagoon is full of icebergs off the glacier Breidamerkurjokull mixing with water from the sea. Once you check out the lagoon be sure to check out the black sand beaches across the road covered with more chunks of ice!


6. Halligrimskirkja Church in Reykjavik – The church is one of the city’s most recognized landmarks and for a small fee you can head up to the clock tower for gorgeous views of the city.


7. Whale watching – We chose Akureyri as our point of origin but whale watching tours are available from many other cities throughout the island. From the boat we were able to see a few humpback whales breaching and diving in the ocean. The whales come to Iceland to feed during the summer and they have been spotted all the way down in the Caribbean and the Horn of Africa during the winter!

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8. Lounge at the Blue Lagoon – The Blue Lagoon is another famous landmark in Iceland, located near the airport it’s a convenient stop for travelers. Grab a swim suit and head to the lagoon to soak for hours in the geothermal spa with face masks and refreshments!


9. Explore Grabrok Crater – Grabrok is located just off Route 1 in the west and though it is not very well marked, it has steps and pathways to explore three different craters


10. Dyrholaey Arch – In Dyrholaey, near Vik, you can find basalt cliffs and black sand beaches with wonderful views to explore.

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While this is in no way an all-inclusive list of Iceland’s beautiful attractions, these were my favorite stops on our road trip around the Ring Road!